New workers’ comp cover for federal politicians
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New workers’ comp cover for federal politicians

The minister responsible for the Commonwealth workers' compensation scheme (Comcare), Eric Abtez, will join an exclusive $1.4 million insurance scheme restricted just to MPs and Senators.

The government says the new cover arrangements will give federal parliamentarians protection for the first time for workplace injuries and illnesses and the standalone scheme will be administered by Comcare.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz declined to answer questions about the new compo arrangements for federal politicians.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz declined to answer questions about the new compo arrangements for federal politicians.Credit:Andrew Meares

Special Minister for State Michael Ronaldson says that while the politicians' will not be directly joining the public service scheme, their cover will be modelled on the compensation legislation that covers the federal public service and administered by the same agency.

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While the minster has been pushing legislation that will strip workers' compensation entitlements from hundreds of thousands of public servants and private sector workers, work has been going on behind the scenes on a different coverage arrangement for 225 federal parliamentarians.

Senator Abetz's office declined to answer questions on Wednesday about the new workers' compensation arrangements for federal politicians referring inquires to special minister of state Michael Ronaldson.

A spokesperson for Senator Ronaldson said being a Member of Parliament was one of the only professions in Australia not covered for work related injuries.

"From 1 January 2016, a new scheme will be established to provide a member or senator with compensation should they suffer an injury that is caused by performing their duties as a parliamentarian," the spokesperson said.

"The scheme will be modelled on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (1988), which provides cover for Australian Public Service employees.

"The scheme will be administered by Comcare."

The spokesperson said that it was not appropriate for the politicians to directly join public servants covered by Comcare because they had different employment conditions.

But the new MP injury compensation scheme, funded with $1.4 million over four years, "will provide a senator or member with an entitlement to compensation in respect of an injury that arises out of, or in the course of the performance of, his or her duties as a parliamentarian," according to budget papers.

No details were available on the scheme on Wednesday and it is unclear if the politicians' entitlements will mirror those of public servants.

Federal Parliament may not seem a hazardous workplace, but there have been some prominent workers' compensation claims from parliament over the years, including $65,000 paid out to Speaker Leo McCleay after mishap in 1990 when a bicycle he had hired from the house collapsed under his weight, causing the Speaker a broken arm and facial injuries.

Senator Abetz has been vocal in his criticism of the Comcare scheme, alleging that public servants were rorting their entitlements and introducing legislation into the Parliament that will cut eligibility to compensations payouts.

But lawyers' groups, who are campaigning hard against the proposed changes, were unhappy on Wednesday accusing the minister of hypocrisy.

Australian Lawyers Alliance National President Andrew Stone claimed politicians were looking after themselves while stripping away workers' rights.

"While the government is trying to tear the heart out of the Comcare scheme as a 'cost-saving measure', it is simultaneously launching its own gold-plated parliamentary injury compensation scheme," Mr Stone said.

"There is no need or reason for an expensive new injury compensation scheme to be introduced solely for politicians.

"As public servants, parliamentary members and senators should be covered under the existing Comcare scheme."

Correction: Earlier versions of this story were headlined "Eric Abetz abandons Comcare cover for special parliamentarians' scheme" and "Eric Abetz snubs Comcare cover for special parliamentarians' scheme". The Canberra Times accepts that Senator Abetz was unable to be covered by Comcare and therefore hadn't, as these stories suggested, chosen instead to be covered by the new insurance scheme.

An earlier version of this story also attributed comments to Senator Michael Ronaldson. The comments should have been attributed to a spokesperson for the senator.

Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age

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